In the 2002 special series, Writing in the World of Islam, Writers & Company explores the complex world of Islam through conversations with some outstanding writers who know it intimately; writers with wide-ranging cultural experience and perspectives, whose work and imagination have stretched the boundaries of what is possible.
Author information and reading list
For one-fifth of the world's population, Islam is both a religion and a way of life-spiritual, cultural and political, crossing boundaries of race and nationality. At one time the most advanced civilization in the world-powerful and enlightened-Islam has always been ecumenical in both its outlook and its goals. In the early centuries of the Muslim era, the Islamic community was one state under one ruler. Today that community is a religion subdivided into nations: around the world, one billion people-in the Arab countries, Indonesia, Africa, India, the Soviet Union and elsewhere-embrace Islam.
Yet most of us remain surprisingly ignorant of its breadth and diversity. At the same time, since September 11, there is a new curiosity, an appetite, and a desire to know more.
In this timely special series, Writers & Company explores the complex world of Islam through conversations with some outstanding writers who know it intimately; writers with wide-ranging cultural experience and perspectives, whose work and imagination have stretched the boundaries of what is possible.
Program 1: 14 April 2002 -Tayeb Salih
Born 1929 in Sudan, Tayeb Salih is the author of the landmark novel Seasons of Migration to the North, which has been described by Edward Said as one of the finest works of modern Arabic literature. He has worked as Head of Drama in the Arabic Service of the BBC; as Director-General of Information in Qatar in the Persian Gulf; and with UNESCO in Paris and Qatar. Culturally as well as geographically, Salih embraces the East and the West: his fiction draws on both European and classical Arabic literary traditions as well as the rich literature of Islam and Sufism.
Works by Tayeb Salih in English translation include: The Wedding of Zein and Other Stories (trans. Denys Johnson-Davies), Heinemann, 1969; Season of Migration to the North (trans. Denys Johnson-Davies), Heinemann, 1969; and Bandarshah (trans. Denys Johnson-Davies), Kegan Paul International, 1996 (available from Columbia University Press).
Program 2: 21 April 2002 - Hanan al-Shaykh
One of the most highly regarded contemporary Arab writers, Hanan al-Shaykh was born in 1945 in southern Lebanon and brought up in Beirut. After finishing her education in Cairo, she worked in Beirut as a journalist on the literary supplement of al-Nahar, the leading daily paper. During the civil war she fled Beirut, moving first to Saudi Arabia and later to London. Her first novel was banned in several Middle Eastern countries for its expression of female sexuality. Her latest novel, Only in London, captures the collision of Arab and Western cultures with insight and humour.
Hanan al-Shaykh's works in English translation include: The Story of Zahra (trans. Peter Ford), Quartet, 1986; Women of Sand and Myrrh (trans. Catherine Cobham), Random House (Anchor Books), 1989; Beirut Blues (trans. Catherine Cobham), Random House (Anchor Books), 1995; I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops (stories; trans. Catherine Cobham), Random House (Anchor Books), 1998; and Only in London (trans. Catherine Cobham), Random House (Pantheon Books), 2001 (was a finalist for the Independent newspaper's foreign fiction prize).
Program 3: 28 April 2002 - Sonallah Ibrahim
Born 1937 in Cairo, Sonallah Ibrahim is one of Egypt's most innovative writers and a major literary figure in the Arab world. As a leftist activist, he was imprisoned by Nasser for more than five years. Ibrahim's groundbreaking first book, The Smell of It, was banned or censored for nearly two decades in Egypt and other Muslim countries. Original and provocative, his work continues to express his lively, witty, satirical sensibility. His latest novel to be translated into English, Zaat, was described by the Lonely Planet guide to Cairo as a cross between Bridget Jones' Diary and Kafka.
Works by Sonallah Ibrahim in English translation include: The Smell of It and Other Stories (trans. Denys Johnson-Davies), Heinemann, 1971; Cairo from Edge to Edge (photos with essay by Ibrahim, trans. Samia Mehrez), The American University in Cairo Press (Cairo and New York), 1998; Zaat (trans. Anthony Calderbank), The American University in Cairo Press, 2001; The Committee (trans. Mary St. Germain and Charlene Constable), Syracuse University Press, 2001.
Program 4: 5 May 2002 - Orhan Pamuk
Born 1952 in Istanbul, Orhan Pamuk is Turkey's bestselling novelist, with a dazzling reputation abroad. He deftly combines religious and historical themes with Western postmodernism. Pamuk has rejected the title of state artist in Turkey, where he is something of a publishing phenomenon. His latest book, My Name Is Red, returns to the 16th century-a tale of artistic intrigues and murder among the Islamic miniaturists of the Ottoman court. (It recently had a rave review in The New Yorker by John Updike.)
Orhan Pamuk's works in English translation include: The White Castle (trans. Victoria Holbrook), 1990; Random House edition (Vintage Books), 1998; The Black Book (trans. Guneli Gun), Farrar, Straus, 1994; The New Life (trans. Guneli Gun), Farrar, Straus, 1997; My Name Is Red (trans. Erdag Goknar), Knopf, 2001.
Program 5: 12 May 2002 - Saadi Yousef / Ahdaf Soueif
Born 1950 in Cairo, Ahdaf Soueif has been described as Egypt's George Eliot. A chronicler of the personal and the political, she divides her time between Cairo and London and writes in both English and Arabic. According to Edward Said, Soueif's fiction put gender politics on the Arab literary map. Her sweeping 1999 novel, The Map of Love, was short-listed for the Booker Prize.
Ahdaf Soueif's works in English include: Aisha (story collection), Cape, 1983; reissued by Bloomsbury, 1996 (runner-up for the Guardian Fiction Prize); In the Eye of the Sun, Bloomsbury, 1992; Vintage, 1994; Sandpiper and Other Stories, Bloomsbury, 1996; The Map of Love, Bloomsbury, 1999.
Saadi Yousef, born 1952 in southern Iraq, is one of the most important contemporary poets in the Arab world. Following his experience as a political prisoner in Iraq, he has spent most of his life in exile, working as a journalist throughout North Africa and the Middle East. His poetry documents that journey in an original, intimate style. Now based in London, Yousef is also a leading translator of English literature into Arabic.
Saadi Yousef's poems appear in English translation in numerous journals, including:
Banipal (London), Literary Review, River City, Agni Online, Connecticut Review, Poetry International, Indiana Review, Third Coast, Crab Orchard Review, Kenyon Review, Paris Review, Spoon River, Chattahoochee Review, Jusoor, Commonweal, and in the anthology Modern Arabic Poetry, ed. Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Columbia U. Press, 1987.
(Note different spellings: Youssef, Yusef, etc.) His collected poems will be published next year by Graywolf, under the title Without a Face, without a Map; translated and with an introduction by Khaled Mattawa.
"Writing in the World of Islam" is produced for Writers & Company by Sandra Rabinovitch.
*All five tapes are available for purchase at a cost of $50.00 (or $20.00 each).
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